Virtual Partnership makes sense for state like Nebraska

Monday, August 15, 2011

While Nebraskans love those miles of "peaceful prairie land," all that distance can make life tough, whether it's traveling to visit Grandma, fighting a blizzard to watch a basketball game or, as U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith knows well with his expanding 3rd District, conduct a political campaign.

There's no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but Nebraska would be remiss if it failed to take advantage of modern instantaneous communication.

That's the thinking behind the new Nebraska Virtual Partnership and plans for creation of the Nebraska Virtual School and Nebraska Virtual Library system.

Gov. Dave Heineman said that the Virtual School will provide Nebraska students a "rigorous" online high school curriculum with an emphasis on STEM courses -- science, technology, engineering and math, and advanced placement courses in both rural and urban areas.

It will also establish a single, centralized website informing students, parents, teachers and schools of virtual learning opportunities in Nebraska.

By signing a memorandum of agreement, representatives of the Nebraska Department of Education, Educational Service Unit Coordinating council, University of Nebraska and Nebraska Educational Telecomunications formally established the Nebraska Virtual partnership and committed to create the Nebraska Virtual School.

The initiative also establishes the Nebraska Virtual Library, with NET proposing to make multi-media and digital instructional resources available to students and teachers across the state.

The University of Nebraska is getting into the act by launching the NU Virtual Scholars pilot program, offering 50 free online course enrollments to high schools across the state on a competitive application basis. The university is a natural player in the effort, having offered the Independent Student High School for years.

While nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, virtual education can fill in the blanks for some students who otherwise might be left out of STEM and advanced placement courses.

And while the older among us may be repulsed at the idea of sitting through a televised lecture, today's student has grown up with texting, Skype and other types of instant two-way electronic interaction.

Teachers' organizations are likely to be wary of the system, with its potential for eliminating jobs -- and potential savings was surely a factor in its establishment.

The Virtual Partner appears to be a good idea, as well as a wise response to Nebraska's abundance of miles and shortage of people.

Care will have to be taken, however, that students using it end up with more than a "virtual" education.

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